1) This has been a dreadful year for advertising creative worldwide, and the pool of the worthy-always shallow-amounts to a few puddles on a vast expanse of parched desert floor. Even the spots selected by the professional Cannes-dicappers at Leo Burnett Co. are underwhelming-especially the rat commercial from Argentina, about which more later.
2) As they lie baking on the pier of the Hotel Carlton, the American delegates should take cheer in the European visit of President George W. Bush. Now they needn't protect themselves from the savage solstitial sun, because President Bush-summa cum filiae graduate of the Madame Ceaucescu Institute for the Advancement of Science-has decreed to his European allies that there is no proof of the greenhouse effect.
3) Philip Bronstein, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and husband of aspiring actress Sharon Stone is recuperating from severe foot and ankle injuries after being attacked by a Komodo dragon while touring the Los Angeles Zoo.
Attacked by a Komodo dragon! While we grant that bit of news is obviously not funny-nor explicitly relevant to 6,117 terrible ads, per se-the fact remains, the man went to the zoo and was attacked by a Komodo dragon. As this incident has been underreported in the mainstream press, we believe it demands our attention, chiefly because he went to the zoo for his birthday and nearly had his foot chewed off by a 7-foot-long Indonesian lizard. Which, to reiterate, is no laughing matter.
Nonetheless, American delegates should take note that the Bronstein-Stones have themselves recently haunted the Carlton at the Cannes film festival, and this may not be a coincidence. So, be advised, you can leave your sun block in the room, but keep giant-lizard repellent on at all times.
Oh, yeah, and the John West foods spot called "Bear" will win the Grand Prix. More on that later, too.
For the moment, let's talk about Paul Kemp-Robertson. Each year Paul, at Leo Burnett, Chicago, forages the festivals of the world seeking the best and most awarded TV spots likely to be entered at Cannes. He and his staff then pore over the material to assemble a reel of 50 spots deemed most likely to succeed in the judging chamber of the Palais des Festival.
Paul, and his predecessor Donald Gunn, have been extraordinarily successful at this enterprise. Over the years, more than 50% of their selections have won Lions and they have had the Grand Prix winner on their reel nine years of the past 10. On the 10th year, no Grand Prix was awarded.
Their uncanny knack is the result of two factors:
1) Their uncanny knack. These guys know what's good, and-more importantly-what international juries regard as good.
2) The world output of television commercials, qualitatively, is pitiful. Pi-ti-ful.
This year more than most. Among the spots on the 2001 Cannes Predictions list is one from Craverolanis Euro RSCG, Buenos Aires, for Kiss Mints. The setup: A couple is on a dinner date, and the lady excuses herself to freshen up. He then picks his teeth, using his fingers to remove from his mouth, a dead rat. Then he eats some mints.
If this ad takes a Lion, the Ad Review staff will go to the Los Angeles Zoo barefoot.
Repulsive vermin gags aside, this year's reel is especially infested with extravagant British productions that not only do nothing to propel a selling message but rather entirely substitute for a selling message. One for the U.K. wireless network Orange from WCRS, London, uses digital compositing to play out a hold-up and the ensuing chase atop a public house bar. Don't ask why.
Another, for Levi's Engineered Jeans, features a carful of young people twisting their body parts in grotesque 360s. Don't ask why.
Another is for Monster.com.uk. Two spots show guys with workplace issues listening to their consciences and doing something rash. The tagline, alluding to the always hilarious experience of paranoid schizophrenia, is "Beware of the Voices." Don't ask why.
And the most ludicrous is one for Guinness stout from Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, which is stylistically similar to previous fetching Guinness adverts (jazzy music track, hard-nosed voice-over)-only more so. It depicts the surreal fantasy of a man who has passed out on his barstool, apparently from drinking too much Guinness. Don't ask why.
All right. Here's why: Because they can. Because they have worn their previous dubiously earned festival trophies like so much gold-plated gangsta jewelry and intimidated credulous clients into thinking they are visionaries, when, in fact, they are mainly self-promoters on somebody else's shilling.
But enough saw-toothed dragon attacks of the pale British ankle. There are some highlights, as well.
From Leo Burnett, Mexico City, a charming spot showing a boy bouncing wildly on an ordinary mattress. When he bounces to an adjoining frame, and a Sealy mattress, he collapses instantly into deep sleep.
From Leo Burnett in Peru for El Comercio/Todo Web Supplement, we see a competitive swimmer at the start. When everyone else dives into the water, he runs around the pool, jumps in at the other side and touches for "victory." It's about Internet shortcuts.
A Brazilian spot for Cafe Pilao is a can't-miss for a Gold Lion because it is the quintessential Cannes commercial: a nearly copy-free tele-billboard hinging on a simple, powerful visual joke. We see milk being poured and poured into a cup of Cafe Pilao, which never lightens because it is so strong. Another Brazilian spot from Almap/BBDO, Sao Paolo, cleverly sends up the famous Coke "Mean Joe Greene" commercial of 20 years ago. Only in this one, when English footballer David Beckham tosses the kid his shirt, the kid uses it to wipe Beckham's spit off the Pepsi can.
A South African spot for Hollard Insurance from Network BBDO, Johannesburg, brilliantly thumbs its nose at expense-be-damned American know-how by comparing NASA's multimillion-dollar gravity-defying "space pen" with the low-budget Soviet space-writing technology: a pencil. An unexpected solution to a strategy focusing on unexpected solutions.
Likewise, a Norwegian Ikea spot from New Deal DDB, Oslo, takes a counterintuitive path to pitching its furniture: A young woman comes home to her parents' house and catches them in the midst of perverse sex play. Mom's in a black-lace teddy. Dad's in a pig mask. The daughter will be furnishing a place of her own.
Maybe our favorite is from Thailand agency Fame Line Co., Bangkok, for Mistine Lotion. The production's a bit cheesy, but we don't care. A young mother with a video camera is trying to coax her infant to say her first word. "Mama. Mama," Mama repeats. But the kid is mute-until finally she chirps: "Grandma. Grandma." She's looking at Mama's rough, wrinkled skin. Ladies, use Mistine Lotion.
Very, very nice-if, in fact, Mistine Lotion exists. We're still smarting from the fake Spanish lotion spot five years ago. We promoted it for the Grand Prix, and it took a gold, but it was a fraud. ("Never greasy," was the tagline. Ha.)
What could win, but shouldn't, are two U.S. campaigns. One, for Fox Sports ( Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York) hilariously depicts local TV coverage of "sporting events" from around the world-such as Turkish cliff diving onto hard ground and an Indian blind-man's-buff game with gigantic, Flintstonian clubs.
The message is that if you watch Fox regional coverage, you won't have to put up with marginal sports from places you're not interested in. But the fake video is so riveting, the ads entirely undercut their ostensible message. Unless they're simply exaggerating their brand of regional coverage. Hard to say. Either way, it's confusing-and confusion should not a Grand Prix make. The jury may not care, however. The campaign has been winning trophies by the basketful, on entertainment merits alone.
More troubling still is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners' fanciful neighborhood "Laurel Lane," where shared cable modem service slows everybody's downloads and turns neighbor against neighbor. It is very funny, and was most effective steering consumers to client Pacific Bell's DSL service, which is one big reason it won the Ad Age Best Awards best in show.
If only the claim were true. Turns out, cable-sharing doesn't materially affect downloading speeds-at least vs. the DSL competition. So was this an innocent bit of hyperbole...or blatant dishonesty? Let's just say the Ad Age Best jury would love to have known the facts before the vote.
The most deserving U.S. entry is from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., for Nike. Originally released as a music-video titled "Freestyle," this extraordinary display of virtuosic basketball dribbling has been recut various ways into a series of the most riveting television commercials ever made. They are absolutely irresistible on first viewing or 100th. In terms of pure eye-catching value, they make the vaunted "1984" look like a rerun of "Babylon 5." These breathtaking spots convey only one message, but only one message in this case needs to be conveyed:
If God cared about advertising-and, obviously, He doesn't-Nike would win the Grand Prix. Instead the prize will go to another splendid commercial, from the U.K.'s John West packaged foods. The spot, from Leo Burnett, London, is called "Bear" and it shows an Alaskan shoreline where large kodiak bears are pawing through the river shallows, tossing salmon onto the bank. Then into the frame comes running an apparent lunatic, who gets into a kickboxing match with a bear, ending when the bear gets kicked in the groin. The man then takes the fish the bear has tossed ashore, and runs away.
See? John West spares no effort getting the finest tinned red salmon available anywhere.
It's simple, funny and, while perhaps ever so slightly exaggerated, straightforward in its claim. When it wins, nobody will have anything to be ashamed about-except for the other 6,116 commercials, which, we promise you, will suck.
So there you have it. If you are, indeed an American delegate, we have saved you the need to actually visit the screening rooms, not that you planned to. So now you won't have to see any rats. If you also don't want to see any lizards, our advice would be to avoid the bar at the Hotel Martinez.